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Starting Your own Event Planning Service

| Articles | March 2, 2012

So what’s stopping you from putting your party experience to good use by planning, designing and throwing events for private and corporate clients?

The special events industry has grown enormously in the past years. According to research, profits in this industry continue to rise. Just a few years ago, the average profit margin for an event planning entrepreneur was around 15 percent. Recent studies, however, show profit margins anywhere from 30 to 40 percent. This is attributed the industry’s good health to several factors, including the economy and the trend to outsource their meeting-planning functions.

So, What Is Event Planning? This question actually breaks down into two questions: What kinds of events are we talking about? And, what is event planning?

First things first. Generally speaking, special events occur for the following purposes:

  • Celebrations (fairs, parades, weddings, reunions, birthdays, anniversaries)
  • Education (conferences, meetings, graduations)
  • Promotions (product launches, political rallies, fashion shows)
  • Commemorations (memorials, civic events)

This list isn’t an exhaustive one, but as the examples illustrate, special events may be business related, purely social or somewhere in between.

Now we move to the second question: What is event planning? Planners of an event may handle any or all of the following tasks related to that event:

  • Conducting research
  • Creating an event design
  • Finding a site
  • Arranging for food, decor and entertainment
  • Planning transportation to and from the event
  • Sending invitations to attendees
  • Arranging any necessary accommodations for attendees
  • Coordinating the activities of event personnel
  • Supervising at the site
  • Conducting evaluations of the event

How many of these activities your business engages in will depend on the size and type of a particular event, which will, in turn, depend on the specialization you choose.

Why Do People Hire Event Planners?

This question has a simple answer: Individuals often find they lack the expertise and time to plan events themselves. Independent planners can step in and give these special events the attention they deserve.

Who Becomes An Event Planner?

Planners are often people who got their start in one particular aspect of special events. Business owner Martin V.K. had a successful catering company before he decided to plan entire events. Many other planners have similar stories. This explains why planners often not only coordinate entire events but may, in addition, provide one or more services for those events. Event planners may also have started out planning events for other companies before deciding to go into business for themselves.

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Choosing the right Photographer

| Articles | February 6, 2012

How talented is your wedding photographer? Of course, you want the best. But, how do you even begin to understand that as a non-photographer? It’s within in their style. Do they seem to have a lot of posed photographs? Did the subjects in the images appear like they were having fun?

A great image usually has 3 main components.

1) Great composition. Now you don’t have to have a degree in photography to understand basic composition, but the subjects are not normally centered in the image (there are always exceptions). Here’s a great sign of great photos. Are they memorable? Do they grab you visually? Do they evoke a strong feeling/emotion when viewed? Those are all good signs.

2) Great lighting. Again, we are getting a little technical, but it does help to understand. Is the lighting dramatic? Harsh or beautiful? If the photographer understands lighting, it helps to enhance the subjects, not obscuring them.

3) A Great moment. There is the holy grail in photojournalism called the “decisive moment, ” that instant when emotions and timing come together to tell the story of an event.

A look, an action or an unplanned emotion captures and reveals a story behind the photograph. That coupled with our previous points combine to make images that are real, not posed or contrived, that communicate your special day. When you have all three of these “building blocks” in an image you have a great photograph. If you only have two elements, you might have an okay image. If you only have one of these elements, you have vacation photos that no one will want to see more than once! So, look for a photographer with images that speak to your soul.

http://www.amichaels.com, http:www.amichaels.com/blog

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How to Evaluate Each Venue

| Articles | February 6, 2012

Unless you are completely familiar with a venue already and know the sales and management team in place, it’s important to fully review a site in person before signing any agreements. I usually bring a checklist with me to make sure that I don’t overlook any important details.

And to help keep myself organized, I also keep my basic contact information about that venue on the same document so I can refer back to it in case I need to call any of the key contacts for any reason.

Your checklist should include items about the hotel amenities, facilities, A/V, food and beverage, and budget.

Difficulty: Easy
Time Required: Site Visit

Here’s How:

  1. Ask about amenities.When meeting with a venue sales manager, it’s important to make sure that the property allows you to incorporate some on-site promotion for your event. The sales manager should explain limitations or avialability of the follwoing:
    • Ability to display banners/signage/directional signs.
    • Any restrictions to displaying event information.
    • Availability of concierge/information desks.
    • On-site business center and office services (request list & prices).
    • Shipping and receiving services requirements.
    • House phones in meeting rooms.
  2. View the facilities.The venue should be updated and its facilities manager should anticipate any situation. Consider the following:
    • Condition of the grounds and parking.
    • Condition of carpet, paint, and decor.
    • Condition and appropriately sized draperies/skirting.
    • Adequate room size and capacity to hold event.
    • Flexibility to adjust room layout/tables.
    • No visual obstructions within room.
    • Indoor lighting (flexibility to adjust/dim sections).
    • Ability to control natural light.
    • Limited noise distractions in hallways/behind walls.
    • Event room away from kitchen.
    • Nearby restroom access.
    • Nearby medical access.
  3. Inquire about audio/visual & equipment.Nearly every event incorporates one or more elements of A/V. Confirm the avqilability of each of the following:
    • High speed Internet access (wired/wireless).
    • Microphones: lavaliere system and standing (# needed).
    • LCD projectors and hand-held remotes.
    • Appropriate screen sizes and draping options.
    • Flat screen monitors, TV screens for video needs.
    • Easels, white boards and supplies.
    • Outlets (# and locations throughout room).
  4. Explore all catering options.I can’t stress enough the importance of selecting the right food and beverage for an event. Your venue sales manager will have great suggestions, but event planners should make sure they know the full range of choices. I suggest confirming the following:
    • Full service on-site kitchen operation.
    • Detailed menu & serving options.
    • Meet the executive chef if possible.
    • Taste test the the menu you’re considering.
  5. Document your budget.Compile all expense items, including the following:
    • Meeting facility costs.
    • Catering costs.
    • A/V & equipment rental costs.
    • Office services costs.
    • Guarantee policy.
    • Complimentary services.
    • Payment options.
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Successfully Promoting your Event Online

| Articles | November 2, 2011

We all know event promotion strategies have been radically changed with the social media phenomenon. Below is an insightful guest post distilling the most effective ways to utilize social media to promote your next event.

Social media strategy ideas before an event:

  • Create a Facebook Event, pulling in all your event details. This creates a central location for attendees to begin to connect and share their excitement for the event.
  • Create a Facebook Page. For larger events a dedicated page may be appropriate as a central location to engage with attendees and people interested in learning more about your event.
  • On Twitter, create an event hashtag and promote it. Encouraging dialog with Twitter hashtags is an excellent way to build buzz around an event.  Then publicize the hashtag in advance across all channels—put it on your registration page, website, and use it in every single one of your Twitter posts.
  • To encourage people to tweet - give out your hashtag and spread the word, sweeten the deal with a free pass, door prize or other giveaway for one lucky hashtag-er.
  • Post the event to LinkedIn. At a bare minimum, you can create an update that includes a few words on why you are excited for the event and a link to your registration page. Send the invite out to all your LinkedIn connections.
  • Seek out LinkedIn groups that are relevant to your event and let them know about it as well as sharing the event with specific contacts which LinkedIn easily lets you do.
  • Build your own community. For the biggest and most complex events (typically conferences), building your own community may make sense.
  • Learn where communities already are. Before the event, it’s critical to identify existing communities like those on LinkedIn, Facebook, or other forums and find out what they’re interested in. You can also use real-time search on Twitter to find out what your future attendees are talking about and hoping to gain from an event. Then use this knowledge to fine-tune the event content and make sure that it’s relevant for your audience.

 

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Keeping your event under Budget

| Articles | November 2, 2011

50 Tips On How To Keep Your Costs Down

Staying within your event budget is always important to any business venture but it is essential when planning a corporate event. As the goals of a corporate event are generally not profit based, determining the ROI (or return on investment) is often complicated. Below are some steps that you can take that will not only help you meet event budget guidelines, but can bring you in well under budget!

Location

Choosing the right location is an integral part of the success of any event. Here are some tips that can help you find the best possible venue at the best price.

  1. Researching venues online will save time. Ask your local Chamber of Commerce or Convention and Visitors Bureau about possible venue options. As they will want to keep your event within their districts. Websites such as www.eventsource.co.za would be a good starting point.
  2. Try to keep your event local. By using local destinations, your costs will be considerably less than if you took everyone into a distant major city.
  3. When looking at a possible venue, remember to take a video camera to tape your site inspection. or a camera to take photos. This will allow you to review the information later with fresh eyes and without a pushy salesperson.

Efficient Budgeting

Event planning budgeting is the most crucial component of event planning. Remember to really think about all the components that are going into your event before settling on a specific event budget. Review these tips about setting your budget and keeping watch over expenditures.

  1. Remember to increase older expenses by at least 10% and add an additional 10% for contingency or unforeseen expenses. These expenses can sometimes occur when you least expect them and can include: inclement weather, labor issues, additional postage and mailings, entertainment substitutes, cancellation insurance.
  2. Review your expenses daily so that any errors can be caught early enough to be corrected without financial repercussions.
  3. Communicate your budgetary restrictions with your venue and contractors. They want to keep your business. Let them know what you can afford and they will work with you.
  4. Request a discount if you pay in cash rather than credit cards. When vendors accept credit cards, they have to pay a percentage to the credit card company. By using cash you are saving them money, so see if they can reciprocate.
  5. Restrict authorized signatures and do not accept any charges made by unauthorized people. Similar to the old adage, too many cooks in the kitchen, the more people making monetary decisions, the higher the costs will be.
  6. Always remember that your business is important. By keeping a history of previous events and advising possible vendors of that history, they will see the potential for repeat business and will try to be as amenable as possible.
  7. Try to be flexible with your event date. Can it be held mid-week? Is there a holiday close to your event date? Evaluate when your selected venue has slow time. You may be able to reduce your expenses. You may also receive better service, as you won’t be competing for attention due to other events at the facility.
  8. When deciding on your budgeting for staff, remember to schedule them at straight time to avoid additional overtime fees.

Contract Guidelines

When negotiating a contract, there are a few important details that are often overlooked. Review these suggestions to help get the most out of your contracts.

  1. Try to negotiate a ‘no deposit’ clause in the contract. If that isn’t possible, try to reduce the deposit amount and try to make it as close to the event date as possible. Then put the money into an interest-bearing account until it is needed.
  2. Remember to always look at all the options. Never limit your supplier or vendor options to just one company. Once a vendor believes he or she is your only choice, the price goes up.
  3. Discuss your event history with the companies you are working with and develop long term relationships that may result in volume discounts.
  4. Always communicate the value of your business and prepare a detailed request for proposal for all aspects of your event. This will demonstrate your awareness of competitive pricing to your vendors.
  5. Remember to ask for everything you want at the very beginning. The later you delay in requesting an item, the more it will affect your bottom line. Don’t be afraid to ask for complimentary items at this time. Whether it be complimentary coffee and tea after the main course, extended use of the room, additional tables for check in, additional staffing for check in or any other needs you may have for your event.
  6. Include a clause in the contract that states that final payment will not be made until you have reviewed the event with the vendor or manager after the completion of the event.
  7. When reviewing your cancellation clause, make sure it is reciprocal. If there are significant changes in your location such as renovations or change in management, you may want to choose another facility.
  8. Include all pricing in the contract. By locking in the menu prices, you will not have to worry about any unforeseeable problems that can be reflected in your bottom line. Even if you can’t lock in the specific menu, make sure that you agree to the pricing schedule.
  9. Review every item in your contract with your staff as well as that of the vendor or venue manager to ensure that there are no surprises. If you have any changes or deletions, mark the contract and make sure both parties initial the changes. Once all points have been reviewed and understood by all parties, then sign. You never sign a contract unless you agree to everything in it.
  10. Stay in constant contact with your vendors and venue. Make sure that everything is going according to schedule and that you don’t miss any cutoff dates. In addition, pay attention to the business climate in the area so that you are aware of any possible problems that may occur.
  11. Understand the regulations and fees incurred for overtime.

Food And Beverage Suggestions

The food and beverage section of your event budget is generally the highest. Below are some tips that may help reduce that line item.

  1. When discussing the menu, work with the chef directly. Communicate your ideas for the event and your concerns with budget. The chef will know what is in season, what can be purchased locally for less, and what his staff is capable of producing. The chef will probably surprise you with some creative suggestions that you hadn’t even thought possible.
  2. When offering coffee, tee tea or decaf, purchase at a large quantity if possible rather than paying a per-cup fee. If possible, negotiate to have the coffee complimentary due to the significant business you are providing.
  3. Discuss with the chef the possibility of reducing portion size as a way of reducing the menu costs. Small reductions in each serving can create substantial savings to the bottom line.
  4. Review the different service options to find out which would be most cost effective but still remain in keeping with the feel of the event.
  5. Research who else is using the facility and what they are serving. By choosing a similar menu or ingredients from those menus, the venue may be able to pass on the savings they receive from buying in bulk.
  6. If serving items on a banquet table, place expensive items in the back so they are harder to reach.
  7. Expensive items such as shrimp and oysters can be taken out of the menu to reduce costs.
  8. Research the pricing structure to identify if a la carte is less expensive than per-person pricing.
  9. Solicit sponsors for the event, such as wineries or microbreweries, who can supply the liquor. There may be corking and serving fees, but it would significantly reduce your liquor costs.
  10. Find out if you can supply the soft drinks for the event and have your staff serve to your guests. Some venues may have a clause that states that only their staff can serve, but you can request that they waive it for this event.
  11. Reduce the time for the cocktail hour by 15 minutes to a half hour.
  12. At the bar, request that they use a controlled-pour system that regulates how much beverages are served to each person. If you are being charged by the bottle, you may be able to make each bottle stretch a little further.
  13. If under an extremely tight budget, eliminate the liquor completely by just serving soft drinks and mineral water. If that seems too drastic, offer wine, beer, soft drinks and water but don’t offer hard liquor or mixed drinks.
  14. If the venue has a discontinued wine label, you can request to use it at a reduced rate.
  15. If the venue has a discontinued wine label, you can request to use it at a reduced rate.

Entertainment/Speakers

Another portion of event planning budgeting that is completely controllable is the entertainment and or speakers. Review these helpful tips you can use to reduce these expenses.

  1. When looking for a keynote speaker or guest speaker, look into industry experts, preferably ones in your area so you can save on travel expenditures.
  2. The earlier you book your entertainment or speakers, the better. They may increase their rates each year, so contract them before any rate increases have occurred.
  3. When given an option, always negotiate to pay a flat fee rather than a fee plus expenses. Expenses always end up costing substantially more.
  4. Research who else is using the venue and see if you can use the same company to provide Audio/Visual equipment or possibly use the same equipment if used at a different time of day than your event.
  5. When booking entertainment, select a group that has some versatility instead of booking multiple groups.
  6. If a group’s rate is too high, discuss with them the possibility of reducing the number of musicians to make it fit within your budgetary constraints.
  7. Always see the speaker, DJ, or group in action before hiring them and check references.

Audio/Visual Requirements

Any event needs some kind of audio/visual equipment. Below are some hints on how to reduce the amount of equipment you need to rent and how much it will cost.

  1. Schedule a meeting with your AV provider and discuss the program for the event. Work together to discern exactly what equipment is essential, if items can be reused, and what is not necessary but could prove helpful. Discuss the number of microphones required, remembering to keep the number at a minimum and limiting wireless microphones whenever possible. Also review items like screen size and get the smallest screen possible.
  2. Ask for a complimentary two-way radio so you can communicate with the AV staff.
  3. Bring your own extension cords and surge protectors so you are prepared if you need them rather than running out and purchasing them at the last moment.
  4. Request that the AV staff record the event, if possible, for no additional charge.
  5. When ordering screens, don’t order draping. No one will notice except your accountant.
  6. Always reconfirm the audio/visual needs for your speakers or entertainment several times before the event and again just before. This way you can eliminate any equipment they may not need and order anything they hadn’t told you about before the actual event.
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